Republican senator to run against AG Kane; GOP House member ponders bid
HARRISBURG — With a Democratic incumbent beset by mounting legal problems, a Republican senator will announce his candidacy for Pennsylvania attorney general, and a GOP House member is considering a bid for the office in 2016.
Even if Attorney General Kathleen Kane clears her court-related hurdles, her odds of winning re-election are slim, political analysts said Monday.
Sen. John Rafferty, a fourth-term Republican from Chester County, will formalize his candidacy Wednesday with the backing of police and firefighter unions. Rafferty is a former deputy attorney general.
Republican Rep. Todd Stephens, a former assistant district attorney in Montgomery County, also might run.
“I'm seriously considering it,” Stephens said.
Two Democrats frequently are mentioned as potential candidates: Josh Shapiro, a former state House member who chairs the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.
Shapiro could not be reached. Williams' spokesman, Cameron Kline, said: “That is not on his plate. He's focused on being the DA.”
Kane, the first woman and first Democrat elected attorney general, in 2012, is under investigation by the Montgomery County district attorney. A statewide grand jury recommended charging Kane with perjury, obstruction of justice, official oppression and criminal contempt of court.
The grand jury said Kane lied and covered up an illegal leak of secret material to a Philadelphia newspaper. Kane of Scranton denies the allegations.
“She maintains her innocence,” her spokesman Chuck Ardo said. “She believes she'll be exonerated, and plans to run for re-election.”
Republicans held the office since it became a statewide elected post in 1980.
“A Republican would be very strong next year,” said Phil Harold, a political science professor at Robert Morris University in Moon. “I think she would still be vulnerable, even if she is not indicted.”
Anyone campaigning against Kane could produce a 30-second television ad detailing her problems that “would be devastating,” Harold said.
“I think for her sake — she's young enough — she should resign,” said former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, a Republican who once represented the North Hills in the state Senate. Hart said she doubts Kane “could even win a primary. This (controversy) has been so protracted.”
Kane, 49, has said she will not resign. She announced in December that she would seek a second term.
A Robert Morris poll this month found Pennsylvanians, by a 2-to-1 margin, believe Kane should resign, although about half of those polled said they did not know enough about her tenure in office to voice an opinion.
If Kane is indicted, from a practical standpoint, she'll have to resign, said Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics. In theory, she could serve through a trial. Resignation is not required until a conviction, which is not final until a defendant is sentenced.
But, said Coleman, “how can you head the state's chief law enforcement office when you're going to trial?”
Kane has little choice but to take the posture she has, or she would immediately become a “lame duck,” he said.
Rafferty briefly campaigned for the job before the 2012 election but effectively was blocked by then-Gov. Tom Corbett's announced support for Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, who lost to Kane.
Rafferty will announce his campaign at the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association in Harrisburg. The Fraternal Order of Police and Pennsylvania Professional Firefighters Association's leaders also will participate.
Kane has been criticized on several fronts during her term, notably for dropping an investigation of legislators caught on videotape while taking cash from an undercover informant. Four of the six officials later charged by Williams, the Philadelphia district attorney, have pleaded guilty.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter.